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Your Favorite Productivity Books

Your Favorite Productivity Books
Productivity Books Recommendations

    Last week, I asked you to recommend your favorite productivity book to a friend or colleague you saw struggling to keep on top of thing. You responded with several great suggestions which I’ll recap below.

    Of course, the idea was somewhat contrived — hopefully you don’t go around handing out book recommendations to everyone you see struggling (unless you’re that guy). Sometimes we offer a little tip, a piece of advice culled from some book or from our own experience, or at the other extreme we might suggest an organization coach. And, of course, reading about productivity and organization isn’t for everyone; you may know people who would be better served by a video, a lecture, or a workshop.

    Still, I think it’s an interesting question to launch our “We Ask, You Answer” series with, since many of us read a variety of books seeking advice on productivity, organization, and overall life success. I half expected a string of responses saying the same thing — David Allen’s Getting Things Done — but I was pleasantly surprised at the range of books people recommended.

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    I (foolishly?) promised to offer my own favorite in my follow-up post, and I’ve spent the last week thinking of what I could offer here. My post on Charles Mingus’ Beneath the Underdog, Improvise Like a Jazz Musician, was one outcome of that process, as I pushed myself to think creatively about the limits of the genre of personal productivity literature. But I’d hardly recommend Beneath the Underdog to anyone struggling to get a grip on a runaway schedule! It’s a brilliant piece of work, but not exactly down-to-earth advice.

    Instead, I have to pick exactly what I was afraid everyone else would pick: Getting Things Done. Personal honesty precludes any other choice, since I actually have given copies of GTD to three people. It’s not the system, though — I don’t practice anything all that close to “orthodox” GTD. What I like about Allen’s book is the matter-of-fact, common sense way he approaches the problem of personal productivity. The core message of Getting Things Done is, in my estimation:

    We all have a bunch of stuff to do, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to wrangle it all into some sort of order. So stop worrying so much about keeping track of everything; write it down, and do it.

    The rest is, as they say, commentary. The tickler file, the inboxes, the 2-minute rule, the contexts, the someday/maybe list, the 10,000/20,000/30,000/etc. foot views, all of it. The main problem I see others dealing with, and the problem Allen directly deals with, is the anxiety people face when they begin to feel overwhelmed and start doubting whether they’re keeping on top of all their obligations.

    Several of you (Justin Prud’homme, Ravindran, Jens Poder, and Chat) agreed, at least about the book if not about the reasons. Justin also recommended Allen’s follow-up, Ready for Anything, a collection of 52 meditations/advices that expand ideas brought up in Getting Things Done. Chat bought a copy of GTD for her mother for Christmas (hopefully mom doesn’t read lifehack! At least, not until Christmas…), agreeing that it’s not the whole system that’s important but the approach to remembering and prioritizing tasks that makes the biggest impact in many people’s lives.

    Jens Poder made an interesting and, I think, useful distinction between “personal leadership” and “personal efficiency”, recommending GTD to people who need to get a grip on their personal organizational habits and Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Effective People for people whose issues lay less in getting things done and more in creating and implementing a vision. Vamsi agreed with Jens’ recommendation, calling 7 Habits “the bible” of personal productivity.

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    As Jens says, GTD and 7 Habits are “the usual suspects”, but for good reason: many people have found their lives improved by reading these books and following the principles Allen and Covey outline. But they are far from being the only books out there, and you came up with lots of other books offering different strategies and different philosophies for taking charge of your out-of-control life. Some of these I’ve read, but many I had not only not read but had never even heard of, so it was doubly interesting for me to read your responses.

    Teknitis and Kevin X both recommended lifehack contributor Leo Babauta’s new e-book Zen to Done, which offers a “boiled down” take on the GTD system, with a few twists. I’m just starting to read this, and will offer a full review here at lifehack later on. If you’ve read Leo’s work, though, either here or at his blog Zen Habits, you know that Leo has a likeable and approachable writing voice and a real kind of wisdom in his writings; Zen to Done looks to be more of the same, focused tightly around the question of personal productivity habits.

    Another book with multiple recommendations was Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, which drew attention from both KRS and Jan. Fiore’s approach deals with some of the underlying issues that cause us to overload ourselves with work and then procrastinate getting it done; as KRS says, you have to deal with this stuff before any system is going to have much of a result.

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    Both Kevin and RDH recommended Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week, which runs a close runner-up for the top place on my own list. Ferris is a remarkable character, and has managed to free up his life so that he can follow his own muse, wherever it leads him, while still making a decent living. Central to his book is the idea of mini-retirements — why work your whole life for a retirement you’re too old to enjoy, when you can explore the world now and still earn enough to live well. 4HWW is definitely inspirational, and a must-read in my opinion for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Rounding up the rest of the titles, we have:

    • 101 Ways to have a Business and a Life by Andrew Griffiths. Tully recommended this, saying it has “plenty of practical stuff for business owners and consultants”.
    • Time Power by Charles R Hobbs. Charles says Hobbs encourages a process of “firmly establishing ‘unifying principles’, developing goals which have ‘congruity’ with these principles, and applying a ‘concentration of power’ to work those things which are most important”. Apparently this one is out of print, but nowadays there’s plenty of ways to get your hands on an out-of-print book.
    • Steve recommended his own article How to Supercharge Your Productivity.
    • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. According to Marie, who recommended this one, Loehr and Schwartz remind us that it’s not only ok to slow down and take a breath once in a while, but that it’s crucial!
    • TexasEx94 recommends Seize the Workday and Total Workday Control by Michael Linenberger; Craig Huggart seconds the recommendation for Total Workday Control, calling it “the best book on getting up to speed quickly with the Getting Things Done system”.
    • Glenn recommends The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker for anyone in management. I haven’t read this one, but am currently working my way through The Daily Drucker, a collection of quotes, tips, and observations on working more effectively. There’s a lot of good stuff there, which is about what you’d expect from a man who lived and worked for nearly a century.
    • Sangreal recommends two books by Mark Foster: Get Everything Done and Still Have Time To Play for the person who’s drowning and needs an immediate lifeline, and Do It Tomorrow for the person who’s not quite buried but needs a little push to get the most out of their days.
    • Sangreal also made the seemingly odd recommendation of books on organization for people with ADHD. I actually picked up a book for ADHD sufferers by accident at the library one time, and to be honest, there was quite a lot of good advice there. More and more, we live in an “ADHD world”, so even if you’re not an “official” ADHD patient, much of the advice that applies to them is likely to apply to you as well.
    • And last but not least, L.H. suggests we have a look at Tony Robbins’ Time of your Life.

    Thanks to everyone for their recommendations — there’s a lot here to expand the personal productivity bookshelf of any GTD’er, and with Christmas coming up and Hannukah already well underway, perhaps this list will give you some ideas for gifts for your own frazzled friends and family members!

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    Last Updated on May 22, 2019

    The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

    The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

    If you spend any time at all researching life hacks, you’ve probably heard of the famous Pomodoro Technique.

    Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is one of the more popular time management life hacks used today. But this method isn’t for everyone, and for every person who is a passionate adherent of the system, there is another person who is critical of the results.

    Is the Pomodoro Technique right for you? It’s a matter of personal preference. But if you are curious about the benefits of using the technique, this article will break down the basic information you will need to decide if this technique is worth trying out.

    What is the Pomodoro Technique?

    The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue.

    The process is simple:

    For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically.

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    You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes.

    Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his personal timer, and thus the method’s name.

    After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.

    Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.

    How the Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity

    Frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused. According to the official Pomodoro website, the system is easy to use and you will see results very quickly:

    “You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”

    If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing.

    Watching the timer wind down can spur you to wrap up your current task more quickly, and spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated.

    The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating.

    You’ll grow to “respect the tomato”, and that can help you to better handle your workload.

    Successful people who love it

    Steven Sande of The Unofficial Apple Weblog is a fan of the system, and has compiled a great list of Apple-compatible Pomodoro tools.

    Before he started using the technique, he said,

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    “Sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to organize a single day in my calendar, simply because I would jump around to all sorts of projects and never get even one of them accomplished.”

    Another proponent of the Pomodoro Technique is Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal. Shellenbarger tried out this system along with several other similar methods for time management, and said,

    “It eased my anxiety over the passing of time and also made me more efficient; refreshed by breaks, for example, I halved the total time required to fact-check a column.”

    Any cons for the Pomodoro Technique?

    Despite the number of Pomodoro-heads out there, the system isn’t without its critics. Colin T. Miller, a Yahoo! employee and blogger, tried using the Pomodoro Technique and had some issues:[1]

    “Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. For instance…meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting…In these instances I tend to not start a pomodoro because I won’t have enough time to complete it anyway.”

    Another critic is Mario Fusco, who argues that the Pomodoro Technique is…well…sort of ridiculous:[2]

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    “Aren’t we really able to keep ourselves concentrated without a timer ticketing on our desk?… Have you ever seen a civil engineer using a timer to keep his concentration while working on his projects?… I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours… Bring back your timer to your kitchen and start working in a more professional and effective way.”

    Conclusion

    One of the best things about the Pomodoro Technique is that it’s free. Yeah, you can fork over some bills to get a tomato-shaped timer if you want… or you can use any timer program on your computer or phone. So even if you try it and hate it, you haven’t lost any cash.

    The process isn’t ideal for every person, or in any line of work. But if you need a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique may fit your needs.

    If you want to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, check out this article: How to Make the Pomodoro Technique More Productive

    Reference

    [1] Aspirations of a Software Developer: A Month of the Pomodoro Technique
    [2] InfoQ: A Critique of the Pomodoro Technique

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